In the Belly of the Beast

Clearly, it’s the dizzying Zen mountaintop of transcendent American consumerism: the Apple Store on Black Friday. Even for the privilege of talking to clerk about a MacBook, I was told the wait was 35 minutes. In that moment I stared into the abyss….empty and forlorn….inadequate access to the Apple buying process. Then I rallied, briefly checked out the new iPhone X — which seemed needlessly complex — and walked back out into the mall, a vibrant minnow swimming in the invigorating waters of holiday commerce.  


Life in the Bay Area

Ah, even the coffee shops can be techie in San Francisco and surrounding areas. I was walking down the street in Berkeley and spotted Algorithm Coffee. Perhaps a dude or dudette is dreaming of a start up in there?  


Lion, Starring Dev Patel: A Feel-Good Drama

Lion, starring Dev Patel, scored mediocre reviews – a low wattage 69 out of 100 on Metacritic – but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. The story starts with a destitute young boy, Saroo, who gets lost and separated from his family in 1980s India, a world of dire poverty; a real dystopia. The child actor, Sunny Pawar, performs with sublime authenticity; those deep brown eyes looking out at the world, hustling through train stations and running from authorities, could move a heart of stone. As the story progresses, Dev Patel plays the grown up Saroo, convincingly and with a light touch. Saroo dreams of finally finding his family again after many years. The climatic scene offers a deep payoff, truly emotionally compelling. Lion is the rare drama that succeeds with hardly a touch of humor. A three-hanky movie, in a good way.

‘The Big Short’ – Great Entertainment from Tragedy

Smart, funny, fast-paced, full of heart, The Big Short offers a social consciousness rarely found in Hollywood films. It also does the nearly impossible by making the intricacies of the 2008 financial crisis understandable for non-economists.

We see the human face of the mortgage meltdown, from distressed homeowners to a cohort of non-sophisticated oddball/outsiders who saw the crisis coming before it erupted. Christian Bale plays Dr. Michael Burry, a brilliant fund manager with Asperger syndrome who takes refuge in his heavy metal drum kit. Ryan Gosling portrays a slick Wall Street insider who turns to the camera and offers shocking truths in a casual voice. Brad Pitt is the older, jaded Wall Street player who’s left the game, yet helps two dorky twenty-something investors who are prescient about the crisis. The heart of the film is Steve Carell as a Wall Street insider who mourns when his bet finally pays off.

The film points out the corruption of the big banks, how their greed and stupidity drove them off the cliff, creating horrible consequences for millions of people in the process. Savings, careers, hopes, families and lives were destroyed by the collapse. Yet as the movie shows, no one was held accountable, and nothing has fundamentally changed. Sure, there was financial legislation in response, but – in the film’s opinion – it is hardly true oversight of mega-powerful financial institutions.

I want to believe that, with time, there will be demand for better, more consumer-centric regulation. That’s idealistic, probably, though as this Atlantic article argues, America is shifting leftward politically (however, the New Republic argues the opposite). Any candidate who advocates for a fairer financial system would certainly get voter interest. The excitement about Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is clearly fueled by this sentiment. Sanders has pulled Hillary Clinton leftward. We’ll see – certainly reform is needed for our long term health as a nation.